by Judy Skapik
Most of us know the five stages of grief as defined by Elizabeth Kubler-Ross. They are: denial, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance. Although most saddened souls who have lost a loved one will be forced to pass through the flames of each of these stages, the stage that is often the most fearsome and difficult to exit is that of anger. The reason being that none of us really understands what anger is, and what it isn´t.
Anger...the very word is a bit frightening. For it is often the one emotion that we constantly keep up our guard against. This is the emotion that we spend much of our lives trying to harness and come to grips with while simultaneously attempting to avoid its all-consuming passion. The one emotion that is so incredibly difficult to conquer yet can become our best ally in times of need. Fear runs deep when we realize we don´t always have the ability to control this particular aspect of our personalities and character. Yet, if we look upon anger as an emotion that can become a very useful tool in our lives, we will be more able to understand the intricacies of it.
If anger were a picture, it would surely be painted a bright, blazing red with imprints of crimson and black threaded throughout. It is, perhaps, the most complex of all our emotions. The reason being that we don´t always understand why we feel the way we do. This, therefore, is what makes it so difficult to put our fingers upon the specific area(s) of our inner workings that often bottle-up. When specific buttons are pushed, they let loose a spinning turbulence of hot emotion and pain. We know we must find a way to harness this fearful passion and strive to understand why it has so much power over us. For while being a natural emotion, anger can often become our undoing lest we learn to minimize the insurgent fires it fans. If we´re not careful, anger can become a foremost part of our personality that too often propels us through each crisis we encounter. While acting as a camouflage for other equally valuable emotions, anger can flourish and create a wall we will then choose to hide behind. This action hinders our understanding the very feelings that we most desperately need to address. Therefore, in order to allow ourselves to grow in wisdom and understanding, we are in serious need of finding a way to control our anger before it controls us. This does not mean that we should strive to avoid anger altogether. Rather, that we should search for a way of sorting fact from fiction so we can then make decisions to help us travel the path to healing more easily. With these actions we freely choose to become either victor or victim.
When a person is consumed by anger, he is actually harboring a deep fear. Whether the fear is real or imagined is of no consequence as the anger most often renders one totally out of control. Once taken over by this emotion, our most basic feelings rule. While clutched in the throes of fury, we are not always aware of the many acts and words that emanate from within us. If we were able to step back and watch the situation unfold as a movie, we would be shocked and horrified at the vehement feelings that flow so freely from our lips. Often, we would hardly be able to recognize ourselves. So, how does one control his situation before it swallows one up? There is no easy answer, as each individual must determine how to draw strength from within. We must each examine our own heart for the path to follow. While this most definitely is not easy, it can be done. There are many ways and each is as unique as those who seek them. The goal one seeks is making anger work for not against himself!
The role of anger while suffering a great loss is to enable the grief-stricken to let loose all the unbearable sorrows that are weighing them down. It plays a crucial part in allowing those unexpressed feelings to be released before they turn inward and cause depression, self-hatred, anxiety and deep sorrow. Without this process the heart becomes hardened and scarred. It is robbed of the true, deep feelings it is capable of. It is as if the heart builds a towering wall around itself to keep everyone else out. Of course, the result is that no one can get in either. Therefore, while anger is indeed a very crucial element in grief healing, it must be understood in order to help one find the path towards healing. Unresolved anger can imprint a lock upon our hearts that robs us of peace and spontaneous joy. I have experienced grief that was so all-encompassing that I thought I would never emerge from under the weight of it. In the past I have often felt anger yet managed to pull out something of value in order to make it work for me. However, when meeting it head on accompanied by grief and loss, I become totally and utterly helpless. During that time I discovered that the love of family and friends, along with time and prayer were the healing balm that brought my soul back to life again. I also discovered that grief is very hard work and cannot be hurried. Only then was I able to allow myself to really feel my emotions rather than fear them.
It takes time to unwind the tangled web of emotions we carry deep within ourselves. We must be as kind to ourselves as we would be to others. Once anger is understood, we can then begin to make sense of it all. By this action we allow growth that enriches our lives along with the lives of those around us. We then enable ourselves to pass into the next stage of grief and as time goes by realize that life can become beautiful again.
Copyright 1999, by the author. Reprinting prohibited except by permission of author, Judy Skapik. This article and many other services are available on-line through Griefnet: www.griefnet.org.